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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown tried to get around NFL COVID-19 protocols by providing the team with a fake vaccination card. The ruse backfired, and the league hit Brown with a three-game suspension. Speculation was rampant that the Buccaneers would part ways with the player upon his return.

This didn’t happen, and Brown is still a member of the team heading into Week 16. The reporter who initially broke the story says that the reason Brown is still an active NFL player comes down to the simple notion of “what Tom Brady wants, he is gonna get.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t cut WR Antonio Brown after his fake vaccination card scam

On Nov. 18, 2021, Tampa Bay Times reporter Rick Stroud first broke the story that Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown gave the team a fake COVID-19 vaccination card to avoid the enhanced protocols that go with being an unvaccinated player.

The league hit Brown (along with teammate Mike Edwards and free agent John Franklin III) with a three-game suspension. Many observers believed this was the end of the trouble-making WR’s time in Tampa.

When the team signed him, head coach Bruce Arians famously declared, “He screws up one time; he’s gone.”

Arians, a 69-year-old cancer survivor, also is notoriously cautious about COVID-19 protocols as someone at higher risk for complications due to age and underlying conditions.

Despite all this, reports started coming toward the end of Brown’s suspension that he would not be cut after all. Then, the Buccaneers lost on Sunday Night Football to the New Orleans Saints. The L was, at least in part, due to WR Chris Godwin going out for the season with a torn ACL and both WR Mike Evans and RB Leonard Fournette leaving with hamstring injuries.

On Monday, Brown was back with the team.

While the move reveals Arians as a massive hypocrite, Stroud says it wasn’t exactly the head coach’s call to bring the pass-catcher back. Brown is still a Buccaneer because that’s what Tom Brady wants, according to Stroud.  

Tampa Bay Times reporter Rick Stroud says the decision to keep Brown is because of Tom Brady’s wishes

In the aftermath of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers embarrassing 9-0 loss to the division-rival New Orleans Saints, Rick Stroud joined the Dan Patrick Show to discuss the state of the team.

Dan Patrick asked the Buccaneers insider whether the rash of skill position injuries Sunday night led to Antonio Brown’s return. Stroud said that the franchise made its decision well before the Week 15 game kicked off. He also believes that there is one reason, and one reason only, Brown is still a member of the Tamp Bay club:

It’s this simple. I don’t know how else to say this. What Tom Brady wants, he is gonna get. So long as he’s here. If Tom Brady wants Antonio Brown on the roster, I’m not sure what he would do — short of a suspension — that would keep him off of it. They owe Tom Brady, right? He put a trophy in their case. Almost tossed it in the river, but he gave these guys increases in their salaries, contract extensions. They’re indebted to him. The ownership loves him. And, look, he’s brought in Gronkowski, Fournette, Antonio Brown. Those are his guys. And they’re the ones that helped them win a Super Bowl last year. I think they all caught touchdown passes or scored one. So, Tom Brady’s running the show here. Make no mistake about it.

Rick Stroud on Tom Brady and Antonio Brown

Brady seems to have a soft spot for Brown that started when the New England Patriots signed the problematic pass-catcher in 2019. Two weeks later, the team released him after a host of allegations surfaced that eventually earned him an eight-game suspension.

Brady seemingly always held out hope that he and Brown would reunite, and the future Hall of Fame QB made that happen in Tampa.

Did the Saints expose the Buccaneers? 

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers talks with Antonio Brown prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Antonio Brown and Tom Brady | Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

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With that barn-burning 9-0 loss to the Saints, the Buccaneers may have given the rest of the NFL a blueprint of how to beat them in the playoffs.

Godwin, Evans, and Fournette going out exposed the lack of depth on the star-heavy Tampa Bay sideline. Behind Fournette, Ronald Jones is serviceable, but he’s not an every-down back. Third-stringer Keyshawn Vaughn added little to the offense as well.

At receiver, Godwin is gone. Now, Brown and Evans are the primary targets on the outside. Evans has been banged-up all season, and Brown is always one tweet away from being booted from the NFL for good.

Wide receivers Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, and rookie Jaelon Darden proved Sunday they’re not ready for primetime against a good defense.

Speaking of defense, the Saints didn’t show the league how to beat Brady. They just reminded them.

Ever since Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Usi Umenyiora tortured the seven-time Super Bowl winning-QB in the 2007 Big Game, the book on Brady is to get pressure up the middle and in his face and hit him every time you get a chance.

The Saints’ bulky pocket-pushers Cameron Jordan and David Onyemata did this to perfection on Sunday and reminded the league about The Brady Rules.

The Bucs should cruise through the rest of the regular season. They have the Carolina Panthers twice and the New York Jets once.

However, once the playoffs come along and the team sees the Micah Parsons and the Dallas Cowboys, Chandler Jones and the Arizona Cardinals, Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams, or even Jordan and the Saints again, Brady and his Buccaneers could be in trouble.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference